Red Tape may be biggest challenge for Brammo and Best Buy

Figuring out the delicate balance between battery weight and effective energy management in order to provide adequate power and a usable range, and then wrapping up that equation in an attractive fun-to-ride package may turn out to be one of the simpler challenges faced by Brammo in bringing its electric motorcycle to the masses.

Remember the endless wait for Enertia Day?  It seemed that delay after delay kept disappointing those who had followed Brammo’s story as they waited for the Enertia to appear on the sales floor at two Best Buy stores in Portland, Oregon.  People were expressing doubts that the bike would ever show up.

As it turned out, one of the biggest reasons for the delay was that the state of Oregon had not approved Best Buy as a dealer of motor vehicles.   Once that approval became official, a week later in fact, E-day became a reality.

Brammo CEO Craig Bramscher and Lead Designer Brian Wismann at Portland's Best Buy on August 28, 2009.

Brammo CEO Craig Bramscher and Lead Designer Brian Wismann at Portland's Best Buy on August 28, 2009.

In the same article about the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), I also published a picture that had been posted by @brammodesigner showing the Vehicle Emission Control Information (VECI) Label required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to be posted on every production motorcycle.  The absurdity of the inclusion of that label, which clearly indicated that “battery only electric” was the vehicle’s “emission control system,” shows one glimpse of how the world is not really prepared to face the realities of a plug-in vehicle.  Go ahead — look at your toaster.  Do you see an EPA VECI label on it?  Of course not.  It has no emissions to speak of, unless you count the smoke from your burnt toast.

To the EPA,  the fact that the Enertia has wheels is determinative.  Instead, it should recognize that the Enertia produces zero emissions should exempt it from the VECI label requirement.  Any vehicle that depends solely on electric power and does not have an onboard gasoline-powered generator (such as the Chevy Volt) should likewise be exempt from this requirement.

The EPA on the federal level and the DMV on the state level are only two examples of the type of challenges facing Brammo during its push to market.

Other DMV Absurdities

Best Buy had to apply to Oregon’s DMV to become a vehicle dealer.  One wonders how Best Buy will be able to successfully gain dealer status in Utah which requires that the dealer’s business be:

devoted exclusively to the sale of motor vehicles and business incidental to it. . . The Principle Place of Business must not share any common area with another dealer, auction, dismantler, or manufacturer or any business or activity not directly related to motor vehicle commerce.

(Emphasis added). See Utah Code Ann. § 41-3-210(o)(i). It is unclear how Best Buy is going to handle this limitation in Utah, although it is safe to say they will not be abandoning their inventory of non-Brammo merchandise.

Zoning

Best Buy’s next hurdle is likely to center around zoning.  Zoning regulates the purpose for which land is used, and is usually controlled at the county or city level.  Generally, good zoning practices will prevent anomalies such as an auto assembly plant or a feed lot being constructed across the street from a neighborhood of manicured lawns.  But, just like Utah’s odd auto dealer restriction, Best Buy will have its share of challenges in zoning regulation.

My poking around the morass of zoning regulations for Los Angeles, California, has suggested that Brammo is going to face some delays in making its appearance there.  As I searched, one type of result that kept coming up high on my list was LA’s tight restriction of auto repair businesses.  Brammo has trained certain Best Buy employees to conduct qualified warranty repairs of the Enertia.  These repairs will likely be carried out inside the back room of the Best Buy by these trained mechanics.  I imagine most repairs on these bikes will entail hooking it up to a computer to run diagnostics and tweak settings.  LA zoning law, however, sees this kind of repair as no different than a shop that services a huge Kenworth diesel rig with its associated noise, odors, and hazards of fuel spills.

Perhaps Brammo and Best Buy can use the persuasive power of EV advocates such as LA resident Chelsea Sexton to help them in their trip through the maze of city and county regulations ahead of them.  Sexton,  one of the “stars” of “Who Killed the Electric Car,” recently spoke at a Best Buy conference on electric vehicles.  (Follow her on twitter: @evchels)

The finish line

Based on the long-awaited appearance of the Enertia in Portland, Brammo and Best Buy appear to be working well together to clear the hurdles set before them.  This is uncharted territory and these two companies, like it or not, have become pioneers.  You have to wonder if Best Buy realized the extent of the challenges ahead of it when it joined forces with Brammo in February 2009.

You also have to wonder how long it might be before government regulations based on a petroleum economy catch up with technical innovation.

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